Yesterday Jeff and I went to see the new movie version of “Anna Karenina.” Although I might have preferred a more traditional take on the novel (the movie kept pushing the concept of “life is a stage,” which I feel has been done to death), the cinematography was sumptuous and the costumes luxe with pearls, fur, velvet. The main characters travel in a world with every luxury, but the most satisfying scene by far is when pampered society girl Kitty, newly married to a philosophical young man, tends to her new husband’s very ill father. When she helps clean his ravaged body and we see the surprised expression on her husband’s face, we forget the opulence and focus on this brief episode of humanity and connection, in a time when a simple bath was rare, and water was not necessarily clean or disease-free.
Although I probably have too many pairs of shoes to call myself a minimalist, I love reading about the simplicity movement, and its emphasis on experiences versus things. One of my favorite books is The Simple Living Guide, in which author Janet Luhrs describes how to move toward a simpler life in every way, from how we celebrate the holidays to choosing a place to live. I first read this book after graduating from college, and it gave me faith that no matter what I became or what income I was able to earn, I would be okay in the most important ways.
In our depressed economy, when we have less to give materially, the simple act of caring for another – through touch, listening, or simple eye-contact amid a world of distractions and iPhones – is a gift we all can use. I love Tomas Transtromer’s poem “The Half-Finished Heaven,” which describes this kind of ideal connection:
Everything begins to look around.
We walk in the sun in hundreds.
Each man is a half-open door
leading to a room for everyone.
The endless ground under us.
The water is shining among the trees.
The lake is a window into the earth.
(Translated from the Swedish by Robin Fulton)